Posted on: January 30, 2023 Posted by: usmanmehboob Comments: 0

If I were to post a topless photo on Instagram right now (which, who knows—I might!), here are a few things that would happen. The platform’s artificial intelligence moderators would first detect the presence of nipples. If those nipples were attached to what was deemed a “female breast,” then the photo would swiftly be taken down for violating their community guidelines. And how would they decide what constitutes a “female breast”? Well, put plainly, it depends on how much fatty tissue is behind the nipples (yes, really). And if the breast belongs to a trans man or non-binary person who hasn’t had top surgery? The AI censors will likely mistake the breast for “female,” unless the user tirelessly points out otherwise (as discovered by gender nonconforming model Rain Dove in 2018).




If all of the above sounds strange and nonsensical, that’s because it is. This is something that Meta—the company that owns Instagram and Facebook—appears to finally be cottoning onto. Earlier this month, Meta’s oversight board—a group of academics, journalists, and politicians who advise the company on its content moderation—recommended that Meta change its adult nudity guidelines “so that it is governed by clear criteria that respect international human rights standards.”

“This policy is based on a binary view of gender and a distinction between male and female bodies,” they wrote, referring to the platform’s nudity ban. “Such an approach makes it unclear how the rules apply to intersex, non-binary and transgender people, and requires reviewers to make rapid and subjective assessments of sex and gender, which is not practical when moderating content at scale.”

This is a positive sign from Meta, which appears to be recognizing the murky ethics behind policing a person’s body based on gender markers—or at least leaning that way. But it also feels almost laughably overdue. Teenagers today will likely not remember what a contentious and widespread talking point this once was, with everyone from Willow Smith to Rihanna to Cara Delevingne sharing Free the Nipple hashtags and voicing their outrage about misogynistic double standards online. The global movement—kickstarted by artists and activists—is more than a decade old now. That’s 10 years of pointing out something, over and over again, and it falling repeatedly on deaf ears.

The original Free the Nipple movement, which first went viral in 2015, wasn’t without its drawbacks, of course. While the sentiment was good (why should a “female breast” be perceived as inherently sexual, when guys are free to go topless?), the movement quickly became synonymous with white, cisgender, able-bodied skinny girls with perky tits and not much else. The whole thing began to feel vaguely annoying—a bit of “Tumblr feminism.” In what way, detractors asked, is a conventionally attractive woman baring her breasts going to genuinely shift any paradigm? Gina Tonic put it best for Bustle in 2015: “Feminism without intersectionality is pointless; only representing nipples that adhere to patriarchal standards of beauty is pointless.”

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